Saturday 10 December 2022
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Syracuse Transit Planners Nix Light Rail, Favor Bus Improvements Instead

cdta_orion6Though New York City is more equated with the use of public transportation, Central New York relies fairly heavily on mass transit, as well. This can, of course, be a good thing. Mass transit and services like taxis and Uber have been shown to reduce drunk driving rates. Considering that 29.1 million people have admitted to driving drunk in the past year, the use of public or paid transportation can certainly help make a city safer.

However, creating a cutting-edge transportation system can be very costly, as Syracuse transit planners recently discovered. The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council had previously considered the possibility of implementing a light rail or street car system in order to improve mass transit. But according to a study commissioned by Centro, such a system would simply be too expensive.

Building a street car or light rail system would cost the city upwards of $400 million. Despite the fact that the federal government could provide $100 million to go towards the project, SMTC Director James D’Agostino says that the remaining $300 million figure is still much more than the community can afford. Light rail systems also cost more to maintain than other types of mass transit.

The council also entertained the idea of creating a bus way — a road dedicated to buses in order to get passengers to their destinations more quickly — but its $200 million price tag was also dismissed as being too costly.

Ultimately, the Centro study found that the most viable options would involve improving or adding to Syracuse’s current bus system. At present, the public has expressed the need for the bus system to run more frequently and to have longer hours of operation. As it stands now, the James Street bus services serve over 2,000 riders per day and are standing-room only during the evening commute. Residents have also communicated their desires for more punctual service and technological features for bus tracking or fare payment.

The study found three different options to be both useful and financially feasible for the city.

The option with the lowest cost would allow for improvements to the existing bus service. This would include increasing service frequency to 20-minute increments and the construction of new bus shelters.

The next step up in cost would involve creating a bus rapid transit system. Think of it like taking the express train on the subway: the system has limited stops so passengers can arrive to their destination more quickly. This would provide service every 10 to 15 minutes, as well as specially branded buses and stations specifically for the BRT system.

The choice with the highest cost still involves the creation of a bus rapid transit system, but also adds in bus-only lanes to the mix. While it’s the most expensive, it would help to improve travel times the most.

The costs for these changes range from $20 million to $54 million. Federal grants could potentially pay for up to 80% of the total cost.

The changes would effect a route that would serve downtown, hospitals, colleges, and the SRC Arena and Events Center, as well as a second route that connects Destiny USA to Syracuse University, as well as other districts.

The SMTC is still considering other options and will take public comments about its proposals. The council will make the final recommendation for service improvement in 2017.

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